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Gender Differences in Gratitude: Examining
Appraisals, Narratives, the Willingness to Express
Emotions, and Changes in Psychological Needs
Todd B. Kashdan,1 Anjali Mishra,1 William E. Breen,1 and
Jeffrey J. Froh2
George Mason University
Hofstra University
ABSTRACT Previous work suggests women might possess an advantage
over men in experiencing and benefiting from gratitude. We examined
whether women perceive and react to gratitude differently than men. In
Study 1, women, compared with men, evaluated gratitude expression to be
less complex, uncertain, conflicting, and more interesting and exciting. In
Study 2, college students and older adults described and evaluated a recent
episode when they received a gift. Women, compared with men, reported less
burden and obligation and greater gratitude. Upon gift receipt, older men
reported the least positive affect when their benefactors were men. In Studies
2 and 3, women endorsed higher trait gratitude compared with men. In Study
3, over 3 months, women with greater gratitude were more likely to satisfy
needs to belong and feel autonomous; gratitude had the opposite effect in
men. The willingness to openly express emotions partially mediated gender
differences, and effects could not be attributed to global trait affect. Results
demonstrated that men were less likely to feel and express gratitude, made
more critical evaluations of gratitude, and derived fewer benefits. Implications for the study and therapeutic enhancement of gratitude are discussed.
Accumulating evidence supports the idea that gratitude is linked to
greater psychological and physical well-being (Emmons & McCullough, 2004); helps build lasting, meaningful social relationships
This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant MH-73937
to Todd B. Kashdan. We express our gratitude to Daniel Terhar and Kate Doherty for
their assistance in data collection and preparation stages.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Todd B. Kashdan,
Department of Psychology, MS 3F5, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030. Email: [email protected]
Journal of Personality 77:3, June 2009
r 2009, Copyright the Authors
Journal compilation r 2009, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00562.x
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
(Fredrickson, 1998, 2004); serves as an evolutionary adaptation that
sustains reciprocal altruism (Trivers, 1971); and is negatively related
to emotional disturbances such as depression, social anxiety, and
envy (Kashdan & Breen, 2007; McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang,
2002). Many of these associations held after controlling for Big Five
personality traits and social desirability biases (McCullough et al.,
2002). In addition to influencing well-being, the experience of gratitude leads people to respond prosocially toward benefactors (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Tsang, 2006, 2007) and unrelated others
(Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006), resulting in an ‘‘epidemiology of altruism’’ (Nowak & Roch, 2007). Moreover, upon comparing four existing ‘‘positive psychology’’ interventions, gratitude interventions
yielded the largest effects at posttreatment and follow-up assessments up to 1 month later (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
The sheer magnitude of these relations and the therapeutic efficacy
of gratitude interventions provide support for the value of devoting
additional resources to understanding and enhancing gratitude.
Gratitude is experienced when people receive something beneficial
or felt when somebody does something kind or helpful. It has been
defined as ‘‘a sense of thankfulness and joy in response to receiving a
gift, whether the gift be a tangible benefit from a specific other or a
moment of peaceful bliss evoked by natural beauty’’ (Emmons, 2004,
p. 554). The robustness of findings across experimental studies and
interventions suggests the need to address basic questions about the
nature of gratitude. Are certain people—such as men or women—
less inclined to experience gratitude and derive less benefit from
gratitude? If there are gender differences in reactions to gratitude,
what explains this effect?
Gratitude is associated with indebtedness and dependency among
some people (Solomon, 1995). It is possible that men regard the experience and expression of gratitude as evidence of vulnerability and
weakness, which may threaten their masculinity and social standing
(Levant & Kopecky, 1995). Consequently, men might adopt an avoidance orientation toward gratitude, showing a preference to conceal
rather than express it. This would serve as a type of self-protective
mechanism from contact with unwanted negative emotional experiences or adverse social consequences. Ironically, this avoidance orientation may cause even greater disruptions to psychological and social
well-being. This orientation is expected to diverge from women who,
on average, are more attuned to emotions and behaviors with the aim
Gender Differences in Gratitude
of creating and sustaining meaningful social relationships. Compared
with men, women are expected to perceive gratitude as more functional
or advantageous in their lives because of their heightened priority for
creating and sustaining intimate relationships (Schwartz & Rubel,
2005; Timmers, Fischer, & Manstead, 1998). As a result, women are
expected to derive greater benefits from the experience and expression
of gratitude, including building strong and satisfying relationships.
People benefit from social relationships regardless of their social
roles or value orientations (Argyle, 2001). Thus, if men tend to
devalue and are less comfortable expressing gratitude, clinicians
and researchers may need to give consideration to how these
social cognitive processes potentially disrupt the operation of a
potent source of well-being. Gratitude interventions may require
refinements—being sensitive to gender and underlying processes—
so people find their own appeal in grateful behavior. The series
of studies in this paper attempt to investigate gender differences
in gratitude.
Gender Differences in Emotions
Women are generally more emotionally expressive than men and,
with the exception of anger, experience emotions more intensely and
frequently compared with men (Fujita, Diener, & Sandvik, 1991;
Grossman & Wood, 1993; Kring & Gordon, 1998; Naito, Wangwan,
& Tani, 2005; Simon & Nath, 2004). Women are more aware of their
emotions and report more complex emotional experiences compared
with men (Barrett, Lane, Sechrest, & Schwartz, 2000; Ciarrochi,
Hynes, & Crittenden, 2005). On average, women also report a greater
willingness to express their emotions openly and show stronger tendencies to regulate them to adapt to changing social circumstances
compared with men (Timmers et al., 1998). Small to moderately sized
differences between men and women in the experience and expression
of emotions are contingent on multiple social, emotional, interpersonal, and contextual factors.
Differences in the experience and expression of positive emotions
may amplify the benefits for women compared with men. Positive
emotions feel good, serve the function of broadening people’s mindsets, and allow for finite attentional resources to be redirected from
unrewarding goals to other desired and more meaningful opportunities (Carver, 2003; Fredrickson, 1998). For example, positive emo-
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
tions can aid human beings in their quest to satisfy the fundamental
need to be accepted by other people (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).
Women tend to receive greater social support from peers compared
with men (Eagley & Crowley, 1986). One reason may be that women
possess a greater tendency to recognize acts of goodwill by others,
express their appreciation, and reinforce the likelihood these acts will
be repeated. Upon encoding these shared positive experiences, a durable social resource is created, with both parties more likely to respond with variants of support and responsiveness when later faced
with adversity. In other words, gratitude bolsters social bonds and
friendships by building people’s skills for caring, altruism, and acts
of appreciation. Over time, gratitude—similar to other positive emotions—contributes to the growth of skills, relationships, and resilience. Thus, women might be at an advantage to experience
psychological growth as a function of gratitude.
There are several plausible reasons why men seem less receptive to
grateful feelings. Women and men are socialized differently and
possess different values. In many cultures, women are expected to
express certain emotions more frequently compared with men
(Fischer, 1993; Grossman & Wood, 1993; Kelly & Hutson, 1999),
and this expectation is more imperative for intense positive emotions
(Stoppard & Gruchy, 1993). Women are expected to engage in more
caretaking roles. Women perceive social communication, interdependence, and the development, maintenance, and repair of relationships to be more important than do men. For example, one study
of values across 70 countries found that men rated power, novelty
and stimulation, hedonism, and achievement as their most valued
priorities. In contrast, women’s most important values were trying to
understand and improve their relationships, be tolerant, and act in a
benevolent manner toward other people (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005).
Due to deeply ingrained social norms or self-selected values, women
focus greater efforts on regulating interpersonal relationships,
whereas men focus their emotional expression on the maintenance
and pursuit of power and status (Brody, 1997, 1999; Stoppard &
Gruchy, 1993).
Gender differences in social values and regulatory goals are important because the expression and sharing of positive emotions is
strongly related with social adjustment (Ingoldsby, Horlacher, Schvaneveldt, & Matthews, 2005). Gratitude is an other-focused emotion, and men may find gratitude to be less familiar and more
Gender Differences in Gratitude
discomforting compared with women. Moreover, with less practical
experience and values that are inconsistent with the open expression
of gratitude, men might find gratitude to be more challenging and
anxiety provoking. If men are less oriented to the experience and
expression of emotions, especially in social situations, then they are
at a disadvantage for benefiting from gratitude. Men would be less
likely to capitalize on how gratitude aids in the savoring of pleasant
life experiences, validates social worth (i.e., gifts being objective evidence of acceptance by others), strengthens social bonds, and promotes prosocial behavior that creates opportunities for additional
positive experiences.
Based on gender differences in values, whether or not men and
women differ in emotional experience, expression, and benefits might
depend on the situation in which gifts are recognized. For example,
men are more likely to express emotions compared with women after
achievement related events (Scherer, Wallbott, & Summerfield,
1986). Yet gratitude often occurs in social situations in the absence
of overt achievement. Thus, we expected the immediate and longerterm benefits derived from gratitude to be more pronounced for
women compared with men.
There are a small number of published studies examining how
gender influences gratitude. In one study, based on a country-wide
essay assignment assessing gratitude in children, girls expressed
more gratitude for social relationships, whereas boys felt more grateful for materialistic possessions (Gordon, Musher-Eizenman, Holub, &
Dalrymple, 2004). Furthermore, grateful feelings in social situations
appear to be more frequently observed in young girls compared to boys
(Baumgarten-Tramer, 1938). In a study of cross-cultural differences,
older American men evaluated gratitude as less useful than other positive emotions such as love, enthusiasm, hope, compassion, and pride
(Sommers & Kosmitzki, 1988). A number of older American men (at
least 35 years of age) reported an explicit preference for concealing
rather than expressing gratitude. In contrast, none of the younger or
older women in the study showed a preference for concealing gratitude.
Two studies provide information on specific situational contexts where
gratitude is influenced by gender. In one study, adult women were more
likely than men to smile and say ‘‘thank you’’ when another person
held the door open for them (Ventimiglia, 1982). In another study,
older adult women were more likely to feel grateful to God compared
with men (Krause, 2006).
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
While providing bedrock, these studies failed to address the issue
of why and how the experience and expression of gratitude might
differ between men and women (for an exception, see Sommers &
Kosmitzki, 1988). Hence, research addressing potential mediators
and moderators in explaining gender differences in gratitude are
needed. We aimed to fill this void.
Gratitude is an attribution-dependent emotion (McCullough &
Tsang, 2004; Weiner, 1985). People experience gratitude when they
value the benefit and think the benefactor intentionally bestowed the
benefit or incurred some cost in providing it (Tesser, Gatewood, &
Driver, 1968). Therefore, studies designed to explain why men and
women differ in the experience and expression of gratitude may
prove fruitful if they assess grateful appraisals and attributions. In
the current investigation, we measured people’s appraisals of grateful experience and expression. Prior studies on gender differences in
gratitude also failed to consider construct specificity or alternative
models. In this study, we addressed this gap in the literature by
examining whether gender differences in appraisals are specific to
gratitude or are relevant to various intimate social behaviors.
Examining gender as a moderator for gratitude compared to other
social behaviors can provide evidence for or against the need to
consider gender when investigating antecedents, consequents, and
methods to enhance gratitude.
Appraisal patterns might explain why women might derive more
benefits from gratitude compared with men. Appraisal theories suggest that emotions stem from how people evaluate objects, events,
and possibilities. People’s actions and emotional experiences are
partially caused by their appraisals of potential costs and benefits, as
well as an event’s meaning (Lazarus, 1991). As opposed to what actually occurs, people experience different emotions in response to the
same event because of variability in their appraisals. If appraisals
influence what people feel and how they act, this model can provide
insight into why men and women might experience different reactions to being beneficiaries. As noted earlier, social-cognitive processes including social norms and personal value priorities influence
gender differences in emotional experiences. Based on this model,
men were expected to be at a disadvantage in terms of experiencing
and capitalizing on grateful emotions.
The work on gender differences in emotion suggests that men are
less practiced at expressing emotions in the context of socializing.
Gender Differences in Gratitude
Men compared with women are proposed to be less willing to express softer, other-focused emotions such as gratitude. Bruch, Berko,
and Haase (1998) found that emotional inexpressiveness mediated
relations between a set of personality attributes (e.g., masculine ideology, shyness, physical attractiveness) and social competence. But
masculine ideology (Study 2)—and not masculine identity (Study
1)—predicted emotional inexpressiveness. These data suggest that
men high in masculine ideology (i.e., the degree to which a man
agrees with traditional societal beliefs about masculinity) compared
with men high in masculine identity (i.e., identifying with masculine
characteristics and behaviors) are more likely to be emotionally inexpressive because masculine beliefs suggest that emotional expression is a sign of femininity and weakness (Pleck, 1981). Furthermore,
men with greater masculine ideologies are more likely to be low in
social competencies as a result of their emotional inexpressiveness.
These processes may differ for older and younger adults.
Compared with younger adults, older adults tend to experience a
shift in value priorities from accumulating experiences and knowledge to being more focused on the pursuit of living well in the fewer
days remaining. They generally show more positive reactions to
events than their younger counterparts. This is partially explained by
their focus on the here and now (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles,
1999) and emotionally meaningful relationships (Carstensen, Gross,
& Fung, 1997). The development of new relationships is eschewed in
favor of spending time with established entities. Because existing relationships possess greater opportunities for more frequent reciprocal altruism and gratitude for these acts, older adults may be more
prone to viewing gratitude as a positive, rewarding, essential experience compared with younger adults. However, there is one study
suggesting that older men are less inclined to categorize gratitude as
‘‘positive’’ compared with other emotional states (Sommers &
Kosmitzki, 1988) due to thoughts and feelings of burden or obligation experienced after receiving a gift. Because men value power,
novelty and stimulation, and achievement as more rewarding than
intimacy, older men might be more likely to invest time and effort
toward finding activities that increase the probability of positive experiences; intimate social exchanges and related emotions such as
gratitude are likely to be less of a priority (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005).
Competing ideas about the role of age and gender in understanding
gratitude require further empirical scrutiny.
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
Current Investigation
In the last few years, researchers carefully designed studies and found
strong empirical support for the potency of gratitude interventions.
These successful findings suggest that gratitude is a promising,
important element to address in clinical settings. Questions remain,
however, as to whether important individual difference variables influence the degree to which gratitude is viewed positively, willing to be
expressed (as opposed to avoided), and associated with psychological
We reviewed evidence suggesting that women report more intense
emotional experiences, are more willing to express their emotions,
and derive greater benefits from them compared with men. Based on
this work and the small subset of studies on gender differences in
gratitude, we expected women to experience and express greater
gratitude and derive more benefits than men. Women might possess
an advantage over men in deriving rewards from their gratitude
experiences because of their increased awareness and acceptance of
emotions; they are also likely to be more practiced in executing
complex behavioral strategies to create, preserve, and enhance intimate relationships.
In this paper, we conducted three studies, using different methodologies, to better understand whether—and more importantly how—
gender influences the experience, expression, and benefits of gratitude.
Study 1 examined how men and women appraise the expression of
gratitude to benefactors. Men were expected to appraise the expression
of gratitude as being more unfamiliar and challenging and less rewarding compared with women. Men also were expected to be more
conflicted about whether to engage or escape from the act of expressing their feelings. As a test of construct specificity, we examined
whether men differed from women in how they appraise another intimate social behavior: confiding in another person about something
very important. Prior studies cannot rule out the alternative hypothesis
that men and women differ in intimate social behavior—beyond gratitude. In Study 2, participants wrote about the most meaningful episode over the past week when they received a gift from someone else.
Afterwards, they appraised the quality of their experience. This narrative approach reduced the social desirability bias of asking people to
directly evaluate gratitude. In addition, we sought to explore how
gender and age differences operate together in predicting responses to
Gender Differences in Gratitude
gratitude by sampling from college students and the community. To
generalize our findings, we examined different appraisals in Studies 1
and 2. Also, we examined gender differences in gratitude dispositions
in both Studies 2 and 3. As the primary focus of Study 3, we used a
prospective design to test whether men and women differed in how
gratitude influenced well-being over a 3-month period. According to
self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985), humans seek to satisfy
basic needs such as feelings of relatedness to other people, autonomy,
and competence. We operationalized well-being as changes in the satisfaction of these needs. As a final component, we tested the hypothesis
that gratitude is associated with less well-being in men, compared with
women, as a function of their preference for concealing rather than
openly expressing their emotions.
Study 1 investigated gender differences in the evaluation of directly
expressing gratitude to a gift giver. Much of the literature on
gratitude has focused on the experience but not the expression of
gratitude. One notable exception is a study showing that a number of
older American men showed a preference for concealing rather than
expressing gratitude (Sommers & Kosmitzki, 1988). Expressing gratitude motivates kindness and other moral behaviors and, thus, is
theorized to be an important process in creating positive social outcomes (McCullough, Kilpatrick, Emmons, & Larson, 2001). Research has suggested that the ease and high rate of emotional
expressiveness of women contributes to their ability to develop intimate relationships (Dindia & Allen, 1992; Reis, 1998; Taylor et al.,
2000). As such, we examined whether women evaluated the expression of gratitude as more rewarding and less novel and challenging
compared with men. This was tested against an alternative model
that there was nothing inherently unique about gratitude. Women
might generally find intimate social activity that is not inherently
about emotions (confiding in someone else) to be more enjoyable
and less novel and challenging compared with men. Berlyne (1960)
theorized that novel and challenging events can evoke approach or
avoidance motivation. He discussed how the abstract qualities of
novelty, complexity, uncertainty, and conflict determine the likelihood of particular motivation orientations. Using this framework,
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
we had participants evaluate the expression of gratitude and other
intimate social behaviors on several dimensions reflecting novelty/
challenge as well as potential reward value.
Gratitude was expected to be more challenging and possess less
reward value for men. This is because of men’s socialized belief systems about manhood. Receiving a gift could imply that another
person was needed to obtain desired end states. Because these desired end states were satisfied with the aid of others, a person might
evaluate themselves as weak and possessing less power than desired.
Unwanted feelings of dependency might be primed. If a person believes there is an obligation to reciprocate the receipt of gifts,
the pleasurable state of gratitude would be attenuated, intensifying
the unpleasant feeling of burden. Based on men’s tendency to
value autonomy and power substantially more than women, they
were expected to view gratitude as less rewarding and more
Participants were 288 college students (mean age 5 19.49, SD 5 3.26) at a
large, public, Mid-Atlantic university. There were 205 women (71.2%)
and 83 men (28.8%). The majority were Caucasian (60.8%), with the remaining participants defining themselves as Hispanic/Hispanic-American
(13.2%), Asian/Asian American (9.7%), African American (7.6%), Middle-Eastern (3.1%), and Other (5.6%).
Procedure and Measures
The research study was posted on an online forum for college students
seeking research participation to meet requirements for undergraduate
college courses. Participants completed an anonymous Web-based survey
and, in return, received research credit.
After being asked to report demographic information, participants made
appraisal ratings for seven hedonistic and seven personal-growth-oriented
behaviors that they might engage in on a given day (Steger, Kashdan, &
Oishi, 2008). For this study, we focused on the two items reflecting intimate
social behavior: expressed my gratitude (verbally or in writing) to someone
who did something for me and confided in another person about something
Gender Differences in Gratitude
very important to me. Both of these behaviors involved expressing personally salient information in the context of an intimate social interaction.1
Participants were asked to think about what it would be like to express
gratitude and confide in someone else. Each behavior was separately evaluated on six dimensions using the following 7-point semantic differential
scales: (1) novelty—for me, engaging in this activity is common to novel; (2)
complexity—for me, engaging in this activity is simple to complex; (3) uncertainty—thinking about this activity, it is easy to predict the outcome to
difficult to predict the outcome; (4) conflict—for me, deciding whether to engage in this activity is not a conflict to a large conflict between the costs and
benefits, (5) interestingness—for me, engaging in this activity is uninteresting
to interesting; and (6) excitement—for me, engaging in this activity is boring
to exciting.
Results and Discussion
To test hypothesized gender differences, we conducted a series of
repeated measures ANOVAs with a focus on Gender Behavior
(expressing gratitude vs. confiding) on each of the six appraisal dimensions. Significant Gender Behavior interactions were found
for complexity, F(1, 278) 5 4.94, p 5 .03, uncertainty, F(1, 281) 5 8.79,
p 5 .003, conflict, F(1, 283) 5 11.22, p 5 .001, interestingness, F(1,
283) 5 3.92, po.05, and excitement, F(1, 280) 5 4.92, p 5 .03; no interaction effect was found for novelty (p 5 .28), but there was a main
effect for gender (p 5 .05) with women evaluating both intimate behaviors as less novel compared with men. Upon interpreting these interaction effects, women evaluated the expression of gratitude to be
less complex, uncertain, and conflicting and more interesting and exciting compared with men. There were no significant gender differences
on the appraisals for confiding in other people. Descriptive data are
shown in Table 1. Evidence showing that women evaluate the expression of gratitude as less difficult and challenging, less confusion about
1. All seven of the hedonistic behaviors are not directly relevant to the topic of
gratitude: had sex purely to get pleasure; bought a new piece of jewelry or electronics equipment just for myself; got drunk; got high on drugs; kept eating more
than I intended of something just because it tasted so good; masturbated; and
went to a big party. The other five behaviors were not directly relevant to our
interest in evaluating situations where another person can be providing benefits.
These five behaviors were intrapersonal (wrote out my goals for the future; persevered at a valued goal even in the face of obstacles), involved being generous
(gave money to a person in need; listened carefully to another’s point of view;
volunteered my time).
(Mean SD)
2.30 1.81
2.38 1.81
2.08 1.47
1.67 1.16
4.96 1.74
4.82 1.64
(Mean SD)
2.89 1.85
2.88 1.74
2.73 1.69
2.40 1.73
4.20 1.86
4.07 1.90
3.82 1.88
4.33 1.93
4.31 1.97
3.79 1.78
4.55 1.70
4.30 1.51
(Mean SD)
3.66 2.17
4.60 2.09
4.68 1.93
4.06 1.97
4.72 1.52
4.43 1.41
(Mean SD)
Notes: Degrees of freedom were 278 for complexity and 281 for uncertainty analyses.
+po.06, npo.05, nnpo.01, nnnpo.001.
Expressing Gratitude
(1, 283)
F Test
(1, 283)
F Test
(1, 283)
Gender Behavior
F Test
Table 1
Gender Differences in Appraisals for Expressing Gratitude and Confiding in Someone About
Something Very Important
Gender Differences in Gratitude
whether to approach or avoid (internal conflict), and greater interest
and excitement were not found for a different variant of intimate social
behavior. These data suggest there is something unique about gratitude. It is viewed as more beneficial and less costly for women compared with men.
Findings from Study 1 provide support for the prediction that
women and men value the expression of gratitude differently. Because the expression of gratitude serves as a moral motivator, these
gender differences might translate into the stronger social bonds,
larger social networks, and greater kindness, empathy, and helpseeking behavior seen in women compared with men (Fehr, 1996;
Reis, 1998). An important feature of Study 1 was the comparison
between how the sexes differed in their appraisals of expressing gratitude compared with other intimate social behavior. This allowed us
to test the construct specificity of our findings. The evidence showed
that gender differences in social behaviors may be more fine-grained
than previously imagined and that the elements of gratitude are valued differently between men and women. Men’s tendency to
evaluate the expression of gratitude as novel and uncertain may reflect their lack of experience, their self-efficacy in executing
the behavior, internal conflicts about perceived costs and benefits,
or some combination of these and other factors. One of the strengths
of this study was the breadth of appraisals and their linkage to
prior research on approach–avoidance frameworks. Most of
Berlyne’s work has been neglected despite offering great potential
to understand how people react and behave in their everyday
Although Study 1 provided data consistent with gender differences in appraisals of expressing gratitude, it is important to identify
some design limitations. Gratitude is a simple construct for people to
grasp, and other researchers have found success measuring it with
one- and two-item scales (McCullough, Tsang, & Emmons, 2004). A
single item to assess the expression of gratitude, however, limits our
ability to generalize to the various reactions people can have to receiving gifts in everyday life. A related measurement issue was our
failure to explicitly assess appraisals relating to positive and negative
feelings, obligation and burden, and prosocial motivation. Additionally, findings were circumscribed to college students when at
least one study posits age differences in attitudes toward gratitude
(Sommers, 1984). Study 2 addresses these measurement issues by
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
using a life narrative approach and an entirely different set of
appraisals in college students and older adults in the community.
As a methodological improvement, in this study, participants wrote
a detailed personal narrative about the most meaningful time over
the past week when they received a gift from another person. After
writing narratives, participants appraised their event on the intensity
of felt gratitude, general positive and negative feelings, feelings of
burden and obligation, and motivation to engage in moral behavior
toward other people following the event. This idiographic approach
allowed for a real-world assessment of how people evaluate the experience and expression of gratitude. Research on gender differences
in value priorities and the importance that men place on being autonomous as opposed to dependent suggests that they might evaluate the gratitude process as possessing less reward potential and
greater burden and obligation compared with women. In addition to
narratives, we also examined gender differences on a traditional selfreport measure of trait gratitude.
Most of what is known about the experience, expression, and appraisals of positive emotions has been based on work with college
students. As a result, our understanding of positive emotions among
older adults and across the life span is relatively limited. To address
the potential boundary conditions of gender differences in gratitude,
in this study, we examined whether gender differences in the experience, expression, and appraisals of gratitude differed across older
adults and college students. This is an extension of the only published study we are aware of on age and gender on gratitude (Sommers, 1984). Carstensen and her colleagues provide evidence that
as people get older, value priorities and goals shift from knowledge
seeking and achievement to investing in events that provide emotional meaning (Carstensen et al., 1999; Charles & Carstensen, 2007).
This is proposed to be a result of recognizing how much time in life is
left and the need to focus on consistent sources of meaning and
pleasure. Exploring new avenues potentially conflicts with this goal
because of the higher uncertainty of finding meaning or pleasure and
greater anxious feelings associated with being uncertain. Based on
this model, older adults were expected to interact more regularly
Gender Differences in Gratitude
with close, intimate people in their lives where gift giving and gratitude are more likely compared with strangers and acquaintances. By
selecting particularly fertile environments for creating and extracting
meaning, older adults might be in a position to experience greater
rewards and less punishment from grateful feelings and their behavioral expression.
Based on prior work, we expected age and gender effects when asking people to evaluate life narratives when they received a gift. Women
(compared with men) and older adults (compared with younger adults)
were expected to report more intense gratitude and judge the experience to be more rewarding, less unpleasant and burdensome, and provoking greater motivation to do good for someone else. On a more
exploratory basis, we examined potential gender and age differences in
the types of benefactors recalled in salient life narratives, types of gifts
received, and whether the type of benefactor and gift affects subsequent responses to being the beneficiary of others’ goodwill.
Seventy-seven older adults (mean age 5 69.58, range 5 59–85, SD 5 6.39)
participated. Participants were recruited from the Osher Lifelong Learning
Institute (OLLI) at George Mason University. The OLLI is a nonprofit
organization focused on the continuing education, socializing, and intellectual stimulation of retired older adults in the community. Our sample included 47 women (61.8%) and 29 men (38.2%), the majority being
Caucasian (98.7%). In addition, we recruited 214 college students (mean
age 5 20.52, range 5 18–48, SD 5 4.06) from a large, public, Mid-Atlantic
university. The sample included 155 women (72.4%) and 59 men (27.6%).
The majority were Caucasian (55.4%), with the remaining participants defining themselves as Asian/Asian American (18.8%), Hispanic/Hispanic
American (8.5%), African American (8.5%), Middle-Eastern (4.7%),
Mixed or Other (2.8%), and 1.4% provided no response.
We recruited older adult volunteers by advertising in the OLLI e-newsletter and flyers. Interested older adults were asked to contact the experimenter via e-mail or phone. Upon being contacted, a paper-and-pencil
survey was delivered to them. Older adults did not receive compensation.
We recruited college students from the undergraduate psychology subject
pool at a large, public, Mid-Atlantic university. Students scheduled an
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
appointment at our laboratory. Upon arrival, participants completed a
paper-and-pencil survey. Students received course credit for participation.
Both samples received identical paper-and-pencil surveys that included all
the measures described for this study. This included items addressing basic demographic information including age, gender, romantic relationship
status, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity.
Trait gratitude. The six-item Gratitude Questionnaire-6 (GQ-6;
McCullough et al., 2002) was used to assess the general frequency, intensity, density, and span of gratitude in people’s lives (a 5 .94). Example
items include ‘‘If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be
a very long list’’ and ‘‘Long amounts of time can go by before I feel
grateful to something or someone’’ (reverse-scored). Responses are provided using a 5-point Likert scale rated from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7
(strongly agree). The GQ-6 has been shown to exhibit excellent psychometric properties, and relations with psychological, physical, and social
well-being cannot be accounted for by higher-order personality traits (i.e.,
Big Five) and social desirability (McCullough et al., 2002, 2004).
Appraisals of gratitude life narratives. Participants were asked to provide a narrative of their most personally meaningful experience of gratitude in the last 7 days. They were told to leave it blank if they did not
experience any gratitude over the past week. However, each of the participants reported that they received at least one gift during the past week
and were able to write about it. Two examples of narratives reflecting the
range of gifts received follow:
I work as a waitress and normally receive 10%–20% tips from my
customers. Two days ago, though, I received over 50%, which was a
$20 tip on a $40 meal!
A friend died this past week . . . it was a shock. I decided to go to my
sing-along class as usual later that day, and felt an enormous well of
support from my community of friends.
Upon completing their narratives, participants were asked several questions about their gratitude experience using 7-point Likert scales from 1
(not at all/very little) to 7 (extremely). Participants provided several ratings, including the intensity of the emotion, the degree to which the experience was pleasant or unpleasant or both, their sense of burden, and
Gender Differences in Gratitude
whether or not they felt it was important to help or do something good
for other people after the experience (e.g., prosocial motivation). Thus,
participants completed five independent appraisals about their narrative.
Besides the five appraisals, participants were asked to describe their relationship with the benefactor using the following response options: romantic partner, parent, friend, child or children, close relative or other
family member, stranger, God, destiny or luck, or nature.
Narratives were coded by trained raters to determine if gifts were best
classified as tangible (i.e., material gift) or intangible (e.g., social support,
time). Raters also coded the gender of benefactors. However, this was not
always possible because gender is not relevant to certain benefactors such
as parents or God, and often, not enough information was available.
Rater training required approximately 15 hr of discussions on assigned
gratitude and life narrative readings and instruction in evaluating protocols from other studies. Meetings were held after every three participants
to prevent behavioral drift. For analyses, we used data based on consensual agreements made between raters. Two raters coded all available
narratives for reliability purposes. Using Cohen’s kappa coefficient, interrater reliability was excellent for ratings of tangible or intangible gifts
(k 5 .86) and type of benefactor (k 5 .84).
Results and Discussion
Initial analyses focused on trait gratitude or the GQ-6. There was
evidence for gender differences with women (M 5 36.40, SD 5 4.62)
endorsing greater trait gratitude compared with men (M 5 34.67,
SD 5 6.29), t(288) 5 2.62, po.01. Upon examining the word count
of narratives, we failed to find significant differences in length between college student women (M 5 45.07, SD 5 35.83) and men
(M 5 46.67, SD 5 28.64). However, older women (M 5 54.25,
SD 5 46.45) wrote longer narratives compared to older men
(M 5 34.54, SD 5 24.19), t(66) 5 1.94, p 5 .06.
As for participant descriptions of benefactors, 30.2% were parents, 23.6% friends, 22.2% romantic partners, 11.5% close family,
5.3% God, 3.6% strangers, 2.2% destiny/luck, and 1.3% nature.
Coding gender of benefactors revealed that 34.1% were women,
25% men, 2.4% spiritual beings, 23.8% fit in an ‘‘other’’ category
(e.g., parents, teammates), and 14.7% did not include enough information to be coded. When coding gifts, 67.6% were defined as being
intangible and 32.4% as tangible.
Using chi-square analyses, we examined gender and age differences on gift type (tangible vs. intangible), benefactor gender, and
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
relationship between participant and benefactor. We did not find
significant gender or age effects on tangible or intangible gifts
(ps4.30). For older adults, there were no significant gender differences in the gender or reported relationships with benefactors
(ps .40). For younger adults, we found significant differences in
the gender of benefactors, w2(4, 184) 5 13.73, p 5 .008. For men,
50% of benefactors were women and 18% men (32% could not be
classified by gender, e.g., parents, community); for women, 29.1% of
benefactors were women, 35.8% men, and 3% God (22% could not
be classified by gender). For younger adults, we also found significant differences in relationships with benefactors, w2(9, 171) 5 16.44,
p 5 .06. For men, 17% of benefactors were romantic partners,
42.5% parents, 27.7% friends, 6.3% close family members, 2.1%
strangers, and 6.4% destiny or luck; for women, 25% were romantic
partners, 37.9% parents, 21% friends, 6.5% close family members,
2.4% strangers, and 7.3% reported God or Nature. Thus, for
younger adult women, the gift givers in narratives were more evenly
balanced between men and women, suggesting they are more comfortable receiving gifts from a wide span of people. Men, on the
other hand, had benefactors that tended to be women and designated as romantic partners, suggesting less flexibility in who they are
comfortable with as gift providers.
To test hypothesized gender differences on the five appraisals relating to life narratives, we conducted a multivariate analysis of
variance (MANOVA) with gender, age, and Gender Age interaction effects. Because gender of benefactors was relevant, this variable
was included in analyses. We conducted appropriate follow-up univariate tests to determine the nature of significant results.
A one-way MANOVA revealed a significant gender main effect,
F(5, 250) 5 3.30, po.01, and a nearly significant age main effect, F(5,
250) 5 2.16, p 5 .06, on gratitude appraisals; there was no support
for a Gender Age interaction. For gender effects, women reported
more intense gratitude for the gift received, more pleasant feelings,
and less burden and obligation compared with men. In terms of age
effects, older adults reported less negative feelings and burden compared with younger adults. Descriptive data and results of univariate
tests are shown in Table 2.
We also found an omnibus three-way Gender Age Gender of
Benefactor interaction on gratitude appraisals (p 5 .04). Upon examining univariate tests, the only significant effects were for pleasant
Gender Differences in Gratitude
feelings, F(3, 250) 5 2.91, p 5 .04, and negative feelings, F(3,
246) 5 3.00, p 5 .03; there were no significant main or two-way effects.
The nature of these effects demonstrated that older men reported less
pleasant feelings than everyone else when their benefactor was male
(X 5 5.0, SE 5 .79; all other group means46.1). As for negative feelings, the findings could not be interpreted because the effects were for
benefactors in the ‘‘other’’ category (instead of men or women). This
result was not a primary aim and we do not discuss it further.
Study 2 found that younger and older women reported greater
tendencies to feel grateful based on scores on a well-validated measure of trait gratitude. This study also moved beyond responses to
predesigned gratitude questions to examine how men and women
differ in their thoughts about a real-world episode when they were a
gift recipient during the past week. Asked how they felt in response to
the episode, women reported feeling greater gratitude and pleasantness and less burden and obligation compared with men. As evidence
of construct specificity, the findings for general pleasant feelings for
being a gift recipient diverged from gratitude reactions. Older and
younger women and younger men all reported similar elevated pleasant feelings when receiving gifts. In contrast, older men reported less
pleasure as a gift recipient. However, this Gender Age interaction
on pleasure was moderated by the gender of benefactors. Specifically,
older men experienced substantially less pleasure when they received
a gift from another man as opposed to from a woman. This may be
something unique to the older cohort under study or may provide
preliminary insight into the qualitative differences of how older men
respond to tangible gifts, support, and aid from other men. There is
the potential to feel dampened pleasure as a result of primed thoughts
about power and status differentials compared to other men.
Gender differences in the emotional experience of gratitude might
be related to different social-emotional skills for women compared
with men and varied social consequences. For example, women tend
to be more aware of their emotions and how to use them intelligently
to obtain desired outcomes (Barrett et al., 2000). Greater gratitude
experiences and more positive and less negative reactions reinforce
the willingness to openly express future gratitude experiences. Relative to women, men exhibited a slight deprivation in this valuable
source of intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits.
This study contributed to a better understanding of gender differences in gratitude by focusing on benefit and cost appraisals associated
(Mean SD)
6.69 .51
6.67 .49
1.36 .87
1.62 1.26
4.71 1.28
(Mean SD)
6.15 .66
6.15 .92
1.80 1.44
2.20 1.14
4.07 1.81
Degree of gratitude
Negative feelings
Prosocial motivation
6.12 .10
6.26 .80
1.98 1.44
2.63 1.57
4.73 1.28
(Mean SD)
6.40 .82
6.28 .84
1.96 1.48
2.20 1.61
4.76 1.38
(Mean SD)
College Students
Notes: F ests reflect follow-ups to main and interaction effects in the MANOVA.
+po.06, npo.05. nnnpo.001.
Older Adults
(1, 254)
F Test
(1, 254)
F Test
(1, 254)
Gender Age
F Test
Table 2
Gender Differences in Appraisals for the Most Meaningful Gratitude Experience in the Past Week
Gender Differences in Gratitude
with receiving gifts from others. Instead of relying on responses to
global self-report questionnaires, the methodology offered novel insights into the understanding of gratitude by using real-life narratives
(McAdams, 2001). Women generally reported greater gratitude and
found it to be more advantageous than men. In addition, we found
some evidence for gender differences in the types of benefactors characterized by the most salient gratitude episode in people’s lives during a
limited time period. Women are more likely to report episodes
with romantic partners or God as gift giver, and men were more likely
to report episodes with friends or destiny/luck as gift giver. These
findings parallel dominant gender roles, with women possibly being
more likely to receive gifts from men or men being less likely to recognize or appreciate these gifts compared with attention given to cultivating close friendships. However, these interpretations should be
considered speculative until further work accounts for within-person
variability in gift giving and receiving in various social relationship
Carstensen’s work shows that older adults tend to show stronger
positive reactions to events than younger adults. Part of this stems
from a value shift from accumulating experiences and knowledge to
being attuned to extracting meaning and pleasure from known sources.
We found that older adults derived fewer rewards when they were the
recipient of another man’s generosity, which may produce a conflict
between the rewards of the gift itself and the internal struggle to feel
empowered and high in status; importantly, older men were no different than anyone else in terms of reaping the rewards when women
provided them gifts. We also found that older adults generally
showed less negative affective and cognitive reactions to being a gift
Based on results from Studies 1 and 2 and relevant theory,
there is no reason to expect the mechanisms explaining gender
differences in gratitude to differ for older and younger adults.
Expressing gratitude is an index of being interconnected to other
people, and the social norms for men emphasize power and autonomy as opposed to reliance and dependence on other people. Receiving a gift might elicit conflict between positive feelings and the
importance of being autonomous. Men may be less willing to express
emotions because it might cause them to appear vulnerable and
affect their goal to be autonomous. We tested this model in the next
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
Whereas Studies 1 and 2 primarily focused on gratitude behaviors
and episodes, Study 3 focused on grateful dispositions. As a replication of Study 2, we began by examining whether men and women
differed in their possession of grateful dispositions. The primary aim
of Study 3, however, was to examine potential gender differences in
the benefits associated with grateful dispositions. To meet this aim,
we used a prospective design and examined whether men and women
differed in how gratitude leads to well-being during a 3-month period. Building on our interpretation of Study 2 findings, we operationalized well-being as the satisfaction of needs for relating to other
people and being autonomous; less relevant was the need to feel
competent—the final dimension of well-being defined by self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Finally, we tested a plausible
mechanism for potential gender differences in how gratitude relates
to changes in well-being over time. It was hypothesized that gratitude would be associated with less well-being in men, compared with
women, as a function of their predisposition to alter, control, or
conceal emotions as opposed to openly expressing them.
One hundred ninety undergraduate college students (mean age 5 23.03,
SD 5 5.90) at a large, public, Mid-Atlantic university participated. At
3-month follow-up assessment (80% retention rate). The T2 sample included 118 women (77.1%) and 35 men (22.9%). The majority of the
sample was Caucasian (66.7%), with remaining participants defining
themselves as Asian/Asian American (9.3%), Hispanic/Hispanic American (3.9%), African/African American (3.9%), and Mixed or Other
(11.6%), and 7 participants failed to provide data.
Participants completed an anonymous Internet-based survey. At T1, all
participants completed several predictor and outcome questionnaires (see
Measures) and gave consent to be contacted for future studies. Three
months later, at T2, participants were emailed a Web link to access the
follow-up survey. The T2 survey was comprised of the same predictor and
Gender Differences in Gratitude
outcome questionnaires found in the T1 survey. Students received research credit for their participation and were required to complete the
initial survey and 3-month follow-up survey to receive full course credit.
Trait gratitude. The 6-item Gratitude Questionnaire-6 (GQ-6; McCullough et al., 2002) was used to assess the general frequency, intensity, density, and span of gratitude in people’s lives (a 5 .93).
Trait global affect. The 20-item trait version of the Positive and Negative
Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) assesses two
distinct dimensions of general emotions. The 10-item Positive Affect subscale (a 5 .85) assesses activated positive emotions (e.g., excited, joy) and
the 10-item Negative Affect subscale (a 5 .96) assesses activated negative
emotions (e.g., anxious, jittery). Responses are provided using a 5-point
Likert scale and participants are asked how they generally feel, rated from
1 (very slightly) to 5 (extremely). The PANAS has demonstrated consistent independence between the two affect subscales as well as excellent
psychometric properties (Watson, 2000).
Psychological well-being. The 21-item Basic Psychological Needs Scale
(Gagné, 2003) was used to assess Relatedness (eight items; a 5 .90), feeling that satisfying and meaningful connections are being made with others, Autonomy (seven items; a 5 .81), feeling that one’s choices and
activities are self-determined as opposed to being controlled by internal
or external pressures, and Competence (six items; a 5 .86), feeling a sense
of mastery in one’s activities. Responses are provided using a 7-point
Likert scale rated from 1 (not at all true) to 7 (very true). This scale has
good psychometric properties and has been shown to be predictive of
prosocial behaviors (Gagné, 2003). This scale is part of a ‘‘family of
scales,’’ and the work version of the basic needs scale has been used most
often. Research has shown that fulfilling these needs predicts greater job
satisfaction, motivation, and productivity (Deci, Guardia, Moller, Scheiner, & Ryan, 2006; Ilardi, Leone, Kasser, & Ryan, 1993). Fulfilling these
needs in relationships predicts attachment security and well-being (La
Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci, 2000).
Positive emotion expressiveness. The 16-item Berkeley Expressivity Questionnaire (BEQ; Gross & John, 1995) assesses individual differences in the
acceptance and willingness to overtly express emotions. The BEQ consists
of three subscales with the current study focused on tendencies to express
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
positive emotions (e.g., ‘‘When I feel positive emotions, people can see exactly what I am feeling’’; a 5 .74). Responses are provided using a 7-point
Likert scale rated from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The BEQ
appears to demonstrate strong psychometric properties, with a 2-month
test–retest reliability of .86 (Gross & John, 1995). As evidence of convergent
and discriminant validity, self- and peer ratings of positive emotional expression predicted the behavioral expression of positive emotions, but not
negative emotions, in the laboratory (Gross & John, 1997, 1998).
Preliminary Analyses
Means and standard deviations for scales at T1 and T2 are reported
in Table 3. Bivariate correlations are also reported. There was evidence for gender differences on the GQ-6 with women (M 5 36.80,
SD 5 5.39) endorsing a greater frequency, intensity, density, and
span of gratitude in their lives compared with men (M 5 34.83,
SD 5 5.52), t(142) 5 1.87, p 5 .06. As for well-being, women reported greater satisfaction of their need to belong or relatedness
compared with men, t(141) 5 1.92, p 5 .05, but there were no gender
differences on autonomy or competence (ps4.50).
Primary Analyses
Gratitude and gender as predictors of changes in well-being. We
constructed three separate hierarchical regression models to examine
whether gender moderated the effects of T1 gratitude (GQ-6) on
psychological well-being. T2 relatedness, autonomy, and competence (Basic Psychological Needs subscales) served as dependent
variables. At Step 1, T1 baseline scores were entered to create residual change scores in relatedness, autonomy, or competence from
T1 to T2. At Step 2, T1 positive and negative affect (PANAS subscales) were entered as covariates. At Step 3, T1 main effects for
gender and gratitude were entered. Finally, at Step 4, the T1 Gender
T1 Gratitude interaction was entered. In addition, to examine
construct specificity, Gender T1 Positive Affect and Gender T1
Negative Affect interactions were also entered at Step 3. Continuous
predictor variables were centered and significant interaction effects
were explored with simple effect analyses (Aiken & West, 1991).
Gender was dummy coded with women coded as 0 and men as 1.
Gender Differences in Gratitude
As predicted, we found support for gender as a moderator of
gratitude effects on changes in well-being over time. After the full
model was run, we removed the nonsignificant Gender T1 Positive
Affect and Gender T1 Negative Affect interactions (ps ranged
from .18 to .60), and a reduced model was tested (see next section for
more detail). The two-way interactions between gender and gratitude
remained significant in these reduced models for relatedness, FD(1,
136) 5 4.39, R2D 5 .02, p 5 .04, and autonomy, FD(1, 136) 5 4.48,
R2D 5 .02, p 5 .04, as shown in Table 4. For women (over and above
main effects, R2 5 .53), gratitude was positively related to greater
relatedness over time, t(105) 5 2.43, R2D 5 .03, p 5 .02, whereas for
men (over and above main effects, R2 5 .43), gratitude was not significantly related to relatedness (R2D 5 .00, p 5 .64). In addition, for
women (over and above main effects, R2 5 .42), gratitude was positively related to greater autonomy over time, t(105) 5 2.15,
R2D 5 .02, p 5 .03, whereas for men (over and above main effects,
R2 5 .31), gratitude was not significantly related to autonomy
(R2D 5 .02, p 5 .35). Gratitude did not significantly predict changes
in competence.
Specificity of gratitude effects. The specificity of gratitude effects
was examined by including trait positive and negative affect in the
initial models as main and interaction effects. As shown in Table 4,
gratitude effects remained even after controlling for significant variance attributable to positive affect. In addition, Gender Positive
Affect and Gender Negative Affect interaction effects on changes
in relatedness and autonomy failed to reach statistical significance in
predicting relatedness (ps 5 .49 and .18) or autonomy (ps 5 .60 and
.40) and were subsequently dropped from the initial model.
Conservatively controlling for these additional interaction
effects had almost no influence on the Gender Gratitude interaction on changes in relatedness (p 5 .02) or autonomy (p 5 .08).
Taken together, these data support the construct specificity of our
Reverse causation model. Bidirectional relations could be hypothesized such that relatedness or autonomy and relevant interactions
with gender predicted changes in gratitude. We found no support,
however, for these main (ps4.65) or interaction (ps4.15) effects in
predicting changes in gratitude.
8. T1 Autonomy
7. T2 Relatedness
6. T1 Relatedness
5. T2 NA
4. T1 NA
3. T2 PA
1. T1 Gratitude
2. T1 PA
.50nn —
.63nn —
(.40 )
( .40 ) ( .06) ( .31)
( .23) ( .26) ( .48 )
(.40 ) ( .21)
(.41 )
(.54 ) ( .37n)
(.42 )
(.42 )
(.52 ) ( .33)
(.51 )
.41nn —
.74nn —
.59 ) (.63nn)
.57nn —
(.79 ) (.58nn)
Table 3
Means, Standard Deviations, and Zero-Order Relations Between Variables
( .34n)
( .24)
( .36n)
( .43nn)
( .19)
( .55nn)
Notes. T1: Time 1; T2: Time 2. Data for women are outside parentheses; data for men are inside parentheses.
po.05, nnpo.01. All p values were two-tailed.
9. T2 Autonomy (.17)
10. T1 Competence (.51nn)
11. T2 Competence (.53nn)
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
Table 4
Hierarchical Regression Models of Gratitude Predicting Changes in
Psychological Well-Being With Gender as Moderator
Dependent variable: relatedness
T1 Relatedness
T1 Positive Affect
T1 Negative Affect
T1 Gratitude
Gratitude Gender
Dependent variable: autonomy
T1 Autonomy
T1 Positive Affect
T1 Negative Affect
T1 Gratitude
Gratitude Gender
Dependent variable: competence
T1 Competence
T1 Positive Affect
T1 Negative Affect
T1 Gratitude
Gratitude Gender
Notes: N 5 143.
po.05, nnpo.01,
po.001. All p values were two-tailed.
Positive emotion expressiveness as a mediating mechanism. Linear
regression analyses were computed to examine whether the Gender
Gratitude interaction on changes in the satisfaction of relatedness
and autonomy were mediated by tendencies to accept and willingly
express positive emotions. Following the guidelines of Baron and
Kenny (1986), we examined whether the requisite conditions of mediation were met. Depicted in Figures 1 and 2 are each component of
these mediation results for changes in relatedness and autonomy,
respectively. The first condition, requiring the Gender Gratitude
interaction (independent variable) to be associated with well-being
Gender Differences in Gratitude
Positive Emotion
Gender ×
–.14* (–.06)
Residual Change
in Relatedness
Figure 1
Positive emotional expressiveness as a partial mediator of the Gender Gratitude interaction on residual changes in relatedness over a
3-month period. All coefficients are standardized estimates. The criterion variable reflects change in relatedness over the course of the 3
months under study. The beta coefficient in parentheses reflects the
effects of Gender Gratitude on changes in relatedness controlling
for positive emotion expressiveness. nnpo.01, nnnpo.001.
outcomes (dependent variables) was supported by prior analyses.
The second condition, requiring the Gender Gratitude interaction
(independent variable) to be associated with positive emotion expressiveness (mediator), was supported for relatedness, FD(1,
133) 5 9.99, R2D 5 .06, p 5 .002, and autonomy, FD(1, 133) 5 9.14,
R2D 5 .05, po.01 (over and above 21% of variance attributed to
main effects and covariates in each respective model). Upon decomposing this interaction, for women, gratitude was associated with
greater emotion expressiveness, t(100) 5 2.16, p 5 .03, whereas for
men, gratitude was associated with less emotion expressiveness,
t(30) 5 2.19, p 5 .04.2 The third condition was supported by evidence of significant associations between positive emotion expressiveness and changes in relatedness, FD(1, 137) 5 27.06, R2D 5 .08,
po.001 (over and above 53% for T1 relatedness), and autonomy,
FD(1, 137) 5 15.65, R2D 5 .06, po.001 (over and above 40% for T1
2. It might appear strange that positive emotion expressiveness would be negatively related to gratitude in men (r 5 .13). Thus, we examined other correlations with positive emotion expressiveness in men and found a positive relation
with trait global positive affect (r 5 .27) and no relation with trait global negative
affect (r 5 .01). As expected, positive emotion expressiveness is related to the experience of positive emotions, and there is some degree of independence from the
experience of negative emotions. However, fitting with our primary thesis, there is
something unique about gratitude in men. The operation of gratitude is different
than other positive emotions in men.
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
Positive Emotion
Gender ×
–.16* (–.09)
Residual Change
in Autonomy
Figure 2
Positive emotional expressiveness as a partial mediator of the Gender Gratitude interaction on residual changes in autonomy over a
3-month period. All coefficients are standardized estimates. The criterion variable reflects change in autonomy over the course of the 3
months under study. The beta coefficient in parentheses reflects the
effects of Gender Gratitude on changes in autonomy controlling for
positive emotion expressiveness. nnpo.01, nnnpo.001.
autonomy). The final condition involved demonstrating a significant
reduction in the effect of the Gender Gratitude interaction on
changes in relatedness and autonomy after accounting for variance
attributable to positive emotion expressiveness. The Sobel test of
mediation (Baron & Kenny, 1986; MacKinnon, Warsi, & Dwyer,
1995) was used. A significant Sobel z indicates that the mediator
partially accounts for the influence of an independent variable on a
dependent variable. Positive emotion expressiveness accounted for
the significant Gender Gratitude interaction on changes in the
satisfaction of relatedness, z 5 2.63, po.01, and autonomy, z 5 2.30,
p 5 .02. These data provide evidence of partial mediation.
Study 3 extended previous findings showing that women thinking
about past gifts report greater gratitude and associate the experience
with more benefits and fewer costs compared with men. Similar to
Study 2, women reported higher scores on a measure of trait gratitude. Additionally, we found evidence that women’s and men’s dispositional gratitude related differently to aspects of well-being across
time. Women derived greater benefits from gratitude, including (1)
greater satisfaction of the need to feel connected to and cared for by
others (belongingness) and (2) increased feelings of freedom to act in
ways that are consistent with core values (autonomy). It is easier to
conceptualize why gratitude might foster social relationships and
Gender Differences in Gratitude
relatedness as opposed to autonomy. However, the link with autonomy becomes more apparent when you consider that a central element of gratitude is mindfulness, the act of being aware of sources of
goodness present in one’s life. This awareness of a benevolent world
can be expected to provide a greater sense of confidence to act in an
authentic manner with a feeling of autonomy. This fits with other
theorists suggesting that mindfulness and acceptance are mechanisms that allow people to effectively live in the present moment,
recognize personally important values, and live in accordance with
these values as opposed to the controlling values of other people
(Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999). Thus, the path from gratitude to
autonomy might be a function of mindfulness facets.
Both relatedness and autonomy are considered to be fundamental
human needs and are posited as essential in the facilitation of personal growth and happiness, and the repair of emotional disturbances (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Women seemed to reap more benefits
than men from being a grateful person. We found evidence to suggest that the general willingness to be emotionally expressive functions as a mediator of gender differences in relations between
gratitude and well-being. In women, trait gratitude was positively
related to emotion expressiveness; the opposite effect was found in
men. In turn, women derived greater psychological benefits from
gratitude as a function of their willingness to share and express
emotion experiences with others. A tendency to share grateful experiences might allow women to initiate, maintain, and strengthen relationships by acknowledging and validating the importance of
others in their life. Emotion expression might also lead to positive
mood contagion, leading others to show a preference for spending
more time with grateful individuals. Expressing emotions may encourage mutual social support and facilitate the development of the
types of lasting, significant social connections that are at the core of
pleasant, engaging, and meaningful living (Argyle, 2001; Diener &
Seligman, 2002). Expressing emotions facilitates the savoring of
events, allowing people to recall memories of positive emotional experiences to buffer themselves during times of emotional stress. The
willingness to openly express emotion might also provide access to
clarifying values and living in accordance with them, satisfying the
need for autonomy and not just relatedness. Thus, emotion expressiveness in women appears to be a critical mechanism connecting
well-being and gratitude.
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
In contrast, there was no support for emotion expressiveness as a
mechanism of action in men. These data may be interpreted in several ways. As discussed earlier, women in general are more willing
than men to express emotions (Kring & Gordon, 1998). Men’s preference for concealing emotions in general seems culturally proscribed with the expression of gratitude being associated with
additional negatively evaluated feelings of vulnerability, dependence,
or indebtedness. An unwillingness to be in contact with negatively
evaluated emotions may lead to efforts to avoid, conceal, or alter the
emotional experience at the expense of other values or psychological
benefits (Hayes et al., 1999). Men’s preference to avoid feelings of
perceived vulnerability or indebtedness costs them opportunities to
develop and strengthen relationships with others. These consequences may unintentionally limit the benefits associated with gratitude for men. Interventions designed to increase psychological
flexibility (e.g., reduce negative evaluations, generate alternative
value consistent appraisals of gratitude) may result in an increase
in men’s willingness to express feelings of gratitude and, over time,
promote psychological well-being. Including these types of add-on
modules might enhance the therapeutic utility of gratitude interventions. There are data to show that men are not born less emotionally
expressive than women, but in fact the teaching and internalization
of socially proscribed gender norms influences the experience, expression, and regulation of specific emotions (Brody, 1997, 1999;
Levant & Kopecky, 1995). These processes tend to be malleable.
Thus, there is great promise in examining ways to change how men
relate to feelings, thoughts, and behaviors linked to receiving
We also conducted a conservative test of construct specificity.
Relations between gratitude and well-being for women were specific
to dispositional gratitude and could not be attributed to global positive or negative affect. This is an important finding, as theories and
supportive data suggest that being in a positive mood facilitates a
shift in cognitive processing to be more flexible, efficient, and creative, allowing for the availability of greater cognitive resources,
physical stamina, and effort toward the pursuit of personally desired
outcomes (for reviews, see Carver, 2003; Fredrickson, 1998; Isen,
2000). Habitual tendencies to experience positive affect have a number of observable benefits (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).
This study provides evidence for studying differences among discrete
Gender Differences in Gratitude
affects, with an emphasis on the uniqueness of gratitude (and unequal benefits for women and men).
An alternative explanation for our results is that women experience greater fluctuations in the satisfaction of basic psychological
needs compared with men. Moreover, interpersonal events (receiving
gifts) may exert a stronger influence on feelings of autonomy and
relatedness for women than men. This line of inquiry can be addressed in future empirical investigations.
Across three studies with varying methodologies, our data suggest
that women compared with men show evidence of a more grateful
disposition and derive greater benefits from the experience and expression of gratitude. We found several mechanisms that explain this
relation, including women’s tendencies to hold more positive appraisals about the benefits of gratitude; men’s tendencies to view
gratitude as more challenging, anxiety provoking, and burdensome;
and women’s greater willingness to openly express emotions and
view this as an effective regulatory act. We showed a high degree of
specificity, as there was no evidence of gender differences in appraisals for other intimate social behaviors and findings could not be attributed to global positive and negative affect.
Based on the available evidence, gratitude is one of the strongest
contributors to well-being, and our data suggest that women are in a
more favorable position to benefit. As a moral motivator, gratitude
encourages prosocial behavior in the beneficiary either directly toward the benefactor or others. Therefore, compared with men,
women are more likely to be altruistic and help out others, both of
which promote deep and broad social ties. Consequently, to the degree that gratitude encourages such behavior, women increase their
chances for well-being because the presence of strong social relationships is perhaps the single greatest cause of happiness (Argyle,
2001; Diener & Seligman, 2002). As a moral reinforcer, gratitude
increases the probability that the benefactor will act prosocially toward the beneficiary in the future. Women reported experiencing
greater gratitude. Thus, women compared with men are more likely
to receive additional benefits—be it in the form of material possessions or nurturing relationships—from the benefactor yet again.
These resources will accrue over time and be a valuable reserve to tap
Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, et al.
into when needed, thus promoting psychological resiliency. Also,
gratitude is a ‘‘hard-to-fake signal’’ of cooperation, which includes
the character strengths of honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity. In
the simplest terms, gratitude signals to others in the group which
people are genuine cooperators (as opposed to free riders). Therefore, people who more effectively experience and express gratitude—
and our studies collectively suggest these people would probably be
women—are more likely to enjoy cooperative exchanges (Emmons &
McNamara, 2006). Taken together, our data indicate that women
compared with men are at an advantage to reap more benefits—such
as personal and relational well-being, social capital, and physical
resources—from the experience and expression of gratitude.
Several limitations are noted. First, the effect sizes are small to
moderate for gender differences. But we argue that this is important
given the potency of gratitude on psychological well-being and
evidence that interventions targeting gratitude outperform other
techniques designed to explicitly enhance full healthy functioning
(and not the alleviation of particular symptoms or disorders; Seligman et al., 2005). The magnitude of change in gratitude from gender
differences should not be viewed as inconsequential, given the multitude of influences on naturally occurring affect and well-being; our
effect sizes also are of similar magnitude to comparable studies. It is
also important because asking for help and relying on other people is
part of navigating the everyday hassles and major stressors of modern life with some semblance of health. Research shows that men are
less likely to seek help from friends, family, or medical professionals
due to fears of being evaluated negatively and the embarrassment of
being dependent on others (George & Fleming, 2004; Good, Dell, &
Mintz, 1998). Appraisals about being the recipient of gifts from
other people and the expression of gratitude can have real health
consequences, such as failing to engage in health promotion behaviors (e.g., seeking therapy and medical examinations when needed).
Second, we addressed gender identity (i.e., identifying oneself as a
man or a woman) but not gender roles (i.e., masculine ideology).
Similar to the findings of Bruch et al. (1998), we may have found
enhanced gender differences in gratitude if we had measured gender
roles. Third, in each of our samples, women consistently outnumbered men (roughly 2 to 1). Because we used an open recruitment
approach for each study, concerns might be raised that the men in
the psychology courses and community group might possess limited
Gender Differences in Gratitude
generalizability. Different gender effects might be found in less educated and affluent samples. We suspect that less educated and
affluent samples would be more reliant on stereotypical gender
norms and roles and, thus, lead to even more pronounced gender
differences than those found in the current set of studies (Simon &
Nath, 2004). Along these same lines, in Study 2, our recruitment
strategy for older and younger adults differed, and motivations for
participation serve as a relevant confound in our ability to interpret
age-related findings. Fourth, despite a number of tests of construct
specificity, we did not conduct comparisons between gratitude and
other discrete affects. Studies are needed to further evaluate the
boundary conditions of where men and women converge and diverge
in various facets of emotions and social activity. Finally, we did not
address heterogeneity within men and women or the individual
differences underlying gender differences in gratitude. Had we
done this, we think larger effects would have surfaced.
Some insight was gained about gender differences and positive outcomes among younger and older adults about their experience and
expression of gratitude. The literature classifies gratitude as
a positive emotion or strength, and gratitude interventions show impressive potency. Our three studies suggest the need to remain sensitive
to potential gender differences in basic and applied research. Questions
remain, however, as to whether additional important individual difference variables influence the degree to which gratitude is viewed positively, willing to be expressed, and associated with well-being. Women
evaluated the expression of gratitude more positively and as less challenging, experienced more intense gratitude in their everyday life, and
perceived less costs associated with receiving gifts compared with men.
Women were also more likely to possess grateful dispositions, and
those who did found or created greater well-being in their lives over
time compared with men. Given these findings, gender is clearly an
important diversity issue in gratitude research and practice, and future
applied gratitude work should consider how to address barriers to
benefits with adjunct intervention modules.
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